Monday, June 20, 2011

Getting Permission for Copyrighted Song Lyrics

St Peter Killed God is ready to be published – almost.   First, I have to take care of the song lyric problem. 

I mention twelve songs in my novel, which isn’t a problem.  Nine of those songs I include some of the lyrics but have not gotten permission to do so. Here is a list of the music I mention in the novel:

Spirit in the Sky (no lyrics)
Eleanor Rigby (no lyrics)
Senor Blues (no lyrics)
Everybody Hurts 
Sympathy for the Devil 
Oye Come Va
Brain Damage 
Whole Lotta Love 
Once in a Lifetime
Carmina B (no lyrics)

So how hard is it to get permission to use lyrics?  First I went to the website where they list the owners of the copyright for all songs before 1978.  At first I just plugged in the name of the song, but got over 20 different copyright owners.  When I narrowed the search down, I got the specific copyright, but here’s some of my problems:

The owner of the rights to REM’s “Everybody Hurts” has a website, but there is no way to contact them.  I joined REM’s fan club just so they would send me an email confirmation.  I replied to that email asking for permission to use the lyrics to that song.  So far I haven’t heard anything.

The rights to “Cantaloop” by Us3 is owned by Capital Records, but on their website there is no way to contact anyone.  The only option is to do it by snail mail.

Both “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin and “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads are owned by Warner Brothers.  Thankfully there was a way to contact them, but who knows whom my email will go to.

“Ch-ch-changes” had a copyright owner. I looked up her blog and found a way to send her an email, but I’m pretty sure she’s not the owner of the copyright.  Still waiting for a response.

That leaves “Desperado”, “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Oye Come Va”, and “Brain Damage” (I also thought the song was “Dark Side of the Moon”).  I’m pretty sure all of these songs were released before 1978 so they won’t be in the on-line database.  The cost to hire someone to look for the copyright owners is 165 dollars an hour.  Minimum charge, two hours.  My hunch is that the copyright is owned by the record label, and if it isn’t they can point me in the right direction. 

I believe the novel is better with the lyrics in, but not necessary.  I’m going to continue to try to track down the owners of these copyrights, but until I get permission, I’m going to lift the lyrics out of the novel.  


  1. I had a similar issue with less popular bands. In the end, I ended up writing my own lyrics. You can use song titles, but the lyrics are tricky and can get VERY expensive. Not to mention, the laws are different from one country to another. Good luck.

  2. Oh this copy right! Unless and until one does not deface a name there should not be any copyright problem. I mailed to two firm, one from China and other from England to use their name. They never mailed me and as it is possible for me to change, i changed their names. Look, rule is so, i should have the freedom to use those names. One should respond suitably and swiftly.

    During the period of waiting, like in your case (13 songs) i can write a novel. Oh my again 13. Lol.

    Kj good luck for you book.

  3. Hi KJ,

    I'm glad you touched base on this.

    I had the similar issue with '90 Miles to Freedom' due to be released soon. I mentioned something similar on my blog also.

    I still don't see why a song can't be mentioned in a book, especially if credit is given to the singer and so on. Either at that moment or placed at the end of the book. It's a bit silly if you ask me.

    Seriously, if a song is mentioned in a book, it's very possible a reader could go to iTunes and listen to the song and possibly buy it. Yeah, it could help their sales.

    I have a soundtrack to '90 Miles to Freedom'. I posted it on my blog also, with the song links to iTunes.

    But with the book, I took out the songs or made it wso nobody could figure it out.

    I stopped writing for two months when I found out about the copyright laws, trying to figure it out. But in the end... I removed them. It was a sad, sad day.

    How cool would it have been to include a cd with a book? Seriously... A book with a soundtrack, just like a movie! Ohhhh, the dream of it all :)

    Keep up the great work!

    The Magic of Finkleton
    90 Miles to Freedom

  4. Thanks for the comments - yes copyright laws seem to be more serious than I thought. I've lifted them and it looks like SPKG will be out soon. KC, a soundtrack is a good idea :)